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LoP in Delhi assembly: AAP must act in a non-partisan manner, facilitate BJP

By Venkatesh Nayak*
The opinion of the voters in Delhi is now crystal clear. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – the newest political party on the block – has captured 95% of the seats in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha. In the newly-elected legislature there will be only 3 non-AAP MLAs. All three belong to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which incidentally is the majority party in the Lok Sabha in Parliament. Upon the constitution and swearing-in of all MLAs in the Vidhan Sabha, a question that has arisen for the second time in less than 12 months — “Who will be the Leader of the Opposition (LoP)?” This question arose last May after the Indian National Congress (INC) became single largest party in opposition in the Lok Sabha with only 44 seats. I commented on this issue in response to queries raised by readers about the fate of various selection committees that shortlist candidates for appointment of statutory authorities such as the Director, Central Bureau of Investigation, the Chairperson and Members of the National Human Rights Commission, the Chairperson and Members of the Lokpal and the members of the Central Information Commission.
The Speaker eventually refused to accept the claim of the leader of the INC’s representative group in the Lok Sabha to the LoP’s post by incorrectly invoking an obsolete ruling from the pre-independence era to hold that unless an opposition party had 10% of the total number of seats in the Lok Sabha it will not be entitled to claim the LoP’s post. Even the Attorney General of India (AGI) is said to have supported this position completely, ignoring the history of the debates in the same House on the issue of the LoP in 1977. I am still waiting for a reply from the Lok Sabha Secretariat to my RTI application seeking a copy of the AGI’s opinion. Now history has come a full circle and it is the turn of the BJP to stake a claim to the LoP’s post in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha with its miniscule representation in the House. Will it or will it not stake its claim to the LoP’s post is the next big question.

What do the Rules of Procedure say about the LoP in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha?

Strangely, the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha throw no light on the manner of appointment of the LoP. The web-edition of these Rules, on http://delhiassembly.nic.in/ProcRules.htm, is silent on the criterion for recognition of the LoP. Nor is any ruling of the Speaker of the Vidhan Sabha on this issue displayed on the website. So the next big, billion rupee question is whether the BJP will let go of its fondness for the 10% quota rule while staking its claim for the LoP’s post? Of course in the absence of clearcut Rules, it is the Speaker’s call.

Should the Delhi Vidhan Sabha have an LoP?

When I commented on the issue of the LoP in the Lok Sabha last year, many readers cautioned me against being identified with the INC that was a claimant of this post. I had made it clear that the issue must not be decided on the basis of the ideological leanings of any person including the Speaker. Instead the issue must be decided with reference to the law on the LoP which, to my mind even now, is crystal clear notwithstanding the Lok Sabha Speaker’s decision. I respect her authority to make such a decision but do not feel compelled to agree with it. My reasoning is based on the unequivocal decision of Parliament to reject any quota based criterion for recognising the LoP.
While a Hindi language daily published a truncated version of my co-authored article on this issue, none of the leading national English language dailies agreed to publish the longer English version of another article co-authored with a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court. While some said the article was too technical for their readers, others claimed shortage of space and another simply did not bother to respond to our request for publication. 
My position on the issue of the LoP has not changed since last year. Irrespective of the colour or ideology professed by a party, we must have a LoP in every legislature as a check against probable tyranny of the majority. This is a time-honoured principle of the Westminster style of democracy that we have adopted and not a prognostication of what AAP might do with its sheer numbers. I am glad that I can restate my views now when the BJP is subject to the Vidhan Sabha Speaker’s discretionary authority on the issue of the LoP. I hope AAP will look at this issue in a non-partisan manner and facilitate the recognition of the BJP’s legislature party leader in the Vidhan Sabha as the LoP. To rephrase my words from article last year, “We cannot not have a LoP in either Parliament or the State Legislatures. It simply ain’t cricket.”
Oh! And one more thing. A certain johnny-come-lately commented on the lineage of voters in Delhi not too long ago. Delhi’s voters have resoundingly rebuffed such compartmentalisation by showing they are neither “raamzaade” (children of the Hindu deity Ram) nor the obnoxious pun played on that word (implying illegitimate children). Instead they are “AAMZAADE” – very ordinary and unpretentious voters who are proud of their lineage, and express their mind and make choices, fearlessly.

*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

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